#THATcamp report part 1: Roy Rosenzweig Forum on Technology and Humanities

x-post Knitting Clio

Hi folks,

I’m back from a busy four days at THATCamp CHNM (aka THATCamp Prime). I’ll start by discussing the fascinating presentation by Pamela Wright, Chief Digital Access Strategist at the National Archives and Records Administration about the Citizen Archivist Dashboard, online projects created with the recently-released 1940 census data, and other exciting digital projects from “our nation’s attic.” I thought Sharon Leon‘s choice to use an interview format was excellent and made for a much more dynamic and engaging forum than a straight-up presentation. The Citizen Archivist Dashboard grew out of the Open Government Platform initiated by President Obama. The goal of Citizen Archivist is to make NARA’s documents more accessible while also serving as a forum for engaging the public in the intellectual work that makes accessibility happen. Pam realized that simply opening the archive’s data to the public without any guidelines would be like dumping out a load of raw cake batter: it might be yummy for the most dedicated enthusiasts (e.g. “Lincoln Lady”) but most people would like to have a “cupcake” — i.e. a specific task or subject on which to work (e.g. the Titanic is the featured “cupcake” right now).

So far, Citizen Archivist has been wildly popular: within two weeks of going live, the archive received 1,000 page transcriptions (by contrast it took Sharon several years to reach the same number of transcribed pages for the Papers of the War Department). The 1940 census received 20 million hits the morning it went live.  Pam hoped that one of the hackers at THATCamp or elsewhere would design a “pocket archivist” app that would allow users to upload images while they are doing research at NARA. She also asked for suggestions for other topics and projects to add to the initiative.

Another way that NARA engaged the public was in the redesign of its website. They received 4 choices from the designer and then let the public vote on which one they liked best. Voters overwhelmingly chose the simplest design (which many at NARA found too minimalist). This is something to keep in mind as my colleagues and I set out to redesign our department website.  Perhaps we should survey our students to see what they want from a website?


Building a DH Culture from the Ground

So my proposal is late-breaking, but here ’tis: I’m currently moving to a new institution where I will help start a new DH center. I’d like to think collaboratively—well, about how that happens. I want to get at this question, however, not by talking about getting grants or picking a pithy acronym for the center’s name. Instead, I’d like to jump off Stephen Ramsay’s recent post, Centers are People, and think about how one begins building the kinds of communities where “a bunch of people…[are] committed to the bold and revolutionary project of talking to one another about their common interests.” I’d especially like to think about how to draw in those people on campus who are interested in DH but don’t yet know it: that history professor with a personal archive she’d love to make public, that librarian crafting the library’s ebook strategy, or that computer science undergrad with an odd side interest in Renaissance poetry. Topics might include:

1.) organizing and effectively promoting DH events to the wider college or university
2.) creating and fostering hacker-friendly spaces on campus
3.) building on-campus partnerships between departments, libraries, &c. &c.
4.) seeding DH incursions into the curriculum

This topic may well tie into hmprescott’s “More Disruptive Pedagogy: Thoughts on Teaching an Un-course” proposal or Kimon Keramidas’s “Of courses, curriculum, networks, and unconferences”.

Bridging the Gap between the CS DL community and the LIS DL community.

I’ve notice a disparaging trend at both the ACM/IEEE-CS JCDL conference and at THATCamps. Digital Libraries researchers from Computer Science have never heard of THATCamp and don’t really interact with the people who attend. Conversely people at THATCamp don’t tend to think of the ACM/IEEE-CS community when they think about what is going on in digital libraries, digital archives, and digital humanities.

In fact the 2012 JCDL conference just ended at GWU the day before THATCamp V started at GMU. Here were two groups of people with similar concerns, interests, and goals across town and unaware of each other.

This session is to discuss why there is fragmentation between the more LIS DL people at THATCamp/ALA/etc and the more CS DL at JCDL/TPDL/etc and try and discuss ways to bridge the gap and bring both groups closer together.

Visually-Oriented Social Tools: Pinterest, Tumblr, and…?

So much emphasis in the Digital Humanities is on the written and the computational– it’s easy to forget that one of the major revolutions of the internet, especially once we got past dial-up, is the ease with which users are able to produce, manipulate, and share images.

For those of us who are deeply visual thinkers, however, this is a very important development.

I would like to propose a session discussing technologies of social image sharing like Tumblr and Pinterest. I think that tools like these have a lot of potential to draw in visual thinkers, encouraging them to learn, aggregate, and create in ways that our more textual social tools– blogs and Twitter, for example– might not.

I’d love to see people’s examples of Tumblr, Pinterest, and other similar tools in the classroom as part of a social pedagogical approach, as well as good examples of these tools being used for outreach and sharing by libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations.

There are, of course, deep and fundamental issues with these sites– they are not specifically designed for this context. There are issues with metadata, deepness of data, and attribution, among other things. I’d like to see a discussion of what a perfect image sharing site for these types of use-cases might look like: more sorting? More thought given to citation? Greater opportunities for discussion and description?

Is this a tool that digital humanists should be working on? Should we be building a better social image sharing tool? Can something like this be built off of any existing open frameworks? Is this something that educators and cultural institutions would embrace, or would they tend to stay with the less-than-perfect commercial vendors because that’s where the people are?

Digitization and its discontents

Now that digitization is part of almost every cultural heritage institution’s workflow, how are we doing?  I’m still seeing real tensions and unresolved arguments over metadata (how minimal can we get without making our work undiscoverable?), process, staffing, interfaces, preservation and discovery. (This can also be an opportunity to talk about the problems with Google Books’ digitization model and its omissions.)  And funding, of course:  plain vanilla digitization projects are less fundable than they used to be.  And when is 3D scanning going to be cheap enough for mass digitization of museum objects?  Let’s discuss where we are and where we’re going in terms of digitization and providing digital access to collections of all sorts.